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Mind-Reading Robot Teachers Keep Students Focused


Cameron Marlow, Facebook

Cameron Marlow calls himself Facebook's "in-house sociologist."

Credit: Leah Fasten

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have developed a robotic teacher that monitors students' attention levels and mimics the techniques human teachers use to hold their pupil's attention.

The researchers, led by Bilge Mutlu and Dan Szafir, wanted to determine whether a robot could use human teaching techniques to improve how much information students retain.

"We wanted to look at how learning happens in the real world," Mutlu says.

The researchers programmed a Wakamaru humanoid robot to tell students a story and then tested them afterwards to see how much they remembered. The robot monitored the students' brain patterns with an electroencephalogram sensor. If the brain signals fell below a certain threshold, the system sent a signal to the robot to trigger a cue, such as a raised voice, or arm gestures.

The researchers found that students learning from the robot answered an average of nine out of 14 questions correctly, compared to 6.3 correct answers when the robot gave no cues.

"The vision of automatically measuring student engagement so as to build a more interactive teacher is very exciting," says Stanford University professor Andrew Ng.

From New Scientist
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